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Is Global Unhappiness Still on the Rise?
鶹ýAV Podcast

Is Global Unhappiness Still on the Rise?

How the world is feeling? Julie Ray, managing editor for world news at 鶹ýAV, joins the podcast to discuss the latest findings from . Where are people feeling the most positive -- and the most negative? “These metrics tell us about life’s intangibles that you can’t get from looking at hard numbers like GDP or income,” says Ray. “This gives a really good indicator of how people are living their lives.”

 
 
 

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Below is a full transcript of the conversation, including time stamps. Full audio is posted above.

Mohamed Younis 00:12

For 鶹ýAV, I’m Mohamed Younis, and this is The 鶹ýAV Podcast. This week, we check in on how the world is feeling -- literally. Our annual Global Emotions Report tracks exactly that, and we have its author here with us to dig into exactly what we’ve learned. Julie Ray is 鶹ýAV’s managing editor for world news. Julie, welcome back to the show, ma’am.

Julie Ray 00:32
Hey, glad to be here.

Mohamed Younis 00:34
Before we dig into the numbers from this year, I wanted to first just ask you, why does measuring feelings matter? We usually think of 鶹ýAV and social research and think of people’s opinions on issues, policies. Why do we do this report about how people feel across the world?

Julie Ray 00:49
These metrics tell us about life's intangibles that you can't get from looking at, at hard numbers like GDP or income or any of those variables. This really gives us a really good indicator of how people are living their lives.

Mohamed Younis 01:05
And, of course, last year, it was a huge story, really, a global story about the rise of unhappiness. And it was a really great report that tracked how that global rise of unhappiness had been building way before the pandemic. This year, you did the hard task of writing the report and saying, what did we learn this year? So what's kind of the big picture from that global rise of unhappiness to today?

Julie Ray 01:30
There's a few takeaways. We had seen an upward rise in unhappiness, as measured by our Negative Experiences Index. So we saw negative emotions rising over the last decade or so. That hit a new high in 2021. In 2022, it stalled out. So I guess the takeaway from that is that it's no worse than it has been for the last couple of years, but it hasn't gotten any worse, but it also hasn't gotten any better.

Mohamed Younis 02:00
And the report really focuses on, on two sides -- the negative experiences and positive experiences. Let's start with the negative one, since you mentioned. What do we actually ask people? What does it mean that the index number is X%? What are the actual experiences we ask people, and how do we ask them?

Julie Ray 02:17
Yeah, so we ask people about five different experiences. So we ask people about, and so, also in the, the mindset of what they experience or what they recall from the previous day. So we ask people if they experienced a lot of anger, worry, stress, sadness and physical pain the day before the survey.

Mohamed Younis 02:39
Julie, what about the positive side of the emotions? What do we ask respondents? And also how do we know that we can really compare people's responses from so many different cultures and languages across the world?

Julie Ray 02:51
So we ask five questions on the positive side of the ledger. So we're asking people if they experienced -- again, thinking about the time frame of the previous day, what you experienced yesterday -- whether people learned or did something interesting; whether they enjoyed a lot of what they did the previous day; whether they smiled or laughed a lot and felt well-rested; and also whether they felt that they were treated with respect a lot of the day, the day before the survey.

Mohamed Younis 03:21
And did we see a rise in those positive experiences this year?

Julie Ray 03:26
So 2021 basically was a, a bad year from, in terms of the world's emotion, emotional state. We saw an uptick in the negative side, so people were experiencing more negative emotions. But we also saw, for the first time in a lot of years, a downtick in the positive side. So it was kind of a double whammy. Now, the good news for 2022 is that we saw a little bit of a rebound in those positive experiences. So it went up, but the world isn't quite back to where it was at the time of, even in the first year of the pandemic.

Mohamed Younis 04:03
I want to also kind of contrast this with happiness. We're talking here about positive experiences. A lot of our listeners have probably heard of the Global Happiness Report, which is also based on 鶹ýAV data and, and really the same survey that we run across the world. What everyone knows about that report is that Scandinavian countries tend to be “the happiest in the world.” In this report, it's a very different kind of metric. And on the positive experiences side, what really caught my eye was the countries that have the highest positive experience ratings are mostly in Southeast Asia and Latin America. Can you explain a little bit of the difference between these metrics and the global happiness metrics?

Julie Ray 04:43
Sure. It's, it's another way of looking at people's wellbeing, essentially. So your, your World Happiness Report focuses on life satisfaction or life evaluations, and that gets at aspects of wellbeing. This is another way to look at people's negative and positive experiences that make up their, their daily wellbeing and their experiences. So the countries that are at the, at the top of the list, in terms of the positive experiences, you know, they aren't Nordic countries, like they are with the life evaluations. So they're mostly Latin American and countries in Southeast Asia. In fact, it's dominated by those two regions of the world. Now, that's fairly typical for what we see year to year. I mean, we've been looking at this since 2006, 2005, so we've been tracking this for a long time. And we've seen it consistently that Latin American countries, as well as some in Southeast Asia, dominate the top of the positive experiences. It is somewhat cultural, in terms of how people in these societies interpret the questions. But some of it is also cultural that in Latin America, particularly, it's a mindset that yes, things are, are, are bad. You know, things may be awful economically but, you know, they could be worse. So there's kind of a little element of that, that there's something cultural going on in how people are interpreting the questions.

Mohamed Younis 06:08
Julie, we've been talking a lot about emotional feelings. We also asked about a physical feeling -- physical pain -- and we found that a third of the world's population 15 and older say they experienced a lot of physical pain the day before the survey. Is that a high? And why should that concern us?

Julie Ray 06:27
It is up one point from the previous year. So, you know, but a third, it's still a third of the world experienced physical pain the previous day, which is not an insignificant number. Physical pain gets at physical health. But there’s also ramifications and considerations for stress and for anger and worry. So the, and sadness, some of those other experiences -- they do actually have tie-ins to people's physical health as well as their mental health. So there are some important takeaways for people's emotional wellbeing there.

Mohamed Younis 07:06
How does the U.S. match up with 141 countries in this report? Because the U.S. doesn't really stand out dramatically on any of these, but it does have a notably high level of one of these negative experiences. And what is that, Julie?

Julie Ray 07:22
It's stress. So you have about, in 2022, we saw that 53% of Americans said that they experienced a lot of stress the previous day.

Mohamed Younis 07:32
And that’s really important to keep in mind, that even though we’re not seeing the kinds of numbers that you would see and are reported in this report from Afghanistan, from Sierra Leone, every country really has its own challenges. And it’s more about where were they and where are they going; what’s going up and what’s going down than sort of a country-by-country competition or comparison.

Julie Ray 07:54
You’re absolutely right. The context for the situations of these countries has a huge, huge bearing. You see that in the case for Afghanistan. It's actually led the world on negative experiences for years, but things went from bad to worse after the Taliban took control and after the U.S. withdrawal.

Mohamed Younis 08:11
Absolutely. And I'm happy you mentioned that, because, really, of all of the nations across the world that we continue to poll in, we really take our work in Afghanistan seriously and giving a voice to people who, in many cases, were on the front pages of news headlines. And now after the war has shifted to a different kind of a conflict and situation, we're one of the only people still asking them, how's life going? And we've been reporting on that, and Julie really did a great job of breaking that down in this report. I encourage you all to read it, download it. Julie, any closing thoughts or big surprises from this year that you'd want to leave us with?

Julie Ray 08:45
You know, one of the main takeaways that I had that if I was a policymaker or a leader that was looking at these data and thinking about them is that yes, things didn't get worse. And yes, on the positive side, things got a little bit better. But things are still at this high, elevated negative state, in terms of the global emotions, and that doesn't give them any room to relax -- and still have to pay attention to how people are feeling.

Mohamed Younis 09:13
On that ominous note, Julie Ray, she is 鶹ýAV's managing editor for world news. Julie, thanks for being with us to break it all down.

Julie Ray 09:19
You bet.

Mohamed Younis 09:23
That's our show. Thanks for tuning in. For more from 鶹ýAV, go to news.gallup.com, and sign up for our newsletter, Front Page, where we break down all that 鶹ýAV is learning across the globe in one weekly email. The 鶹ýAV Podcast is directed by Curtis Grubb and produced by Justin McCarthy. I'm Mohamed Younis, and this is 鶹ýAV: reporting on the will of the people since the 1930s.


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